Listen Boo Boo Kitty, if you’re not tuning in every week like millions – literally millions – of other Americans watching the Lyon family on Empire every Wednesday night, you’re doing your life wrong.
If we made a “Shows You Should Be Watching If You Aren’t Already Bingo” – and Holy Netflix, why haven’t we? – then Empire would have a full board. Empire is a musical drama about the family of music moguls and artists behind Empire Enterprises, a fictional hip-hop label. None of those key words appeal to you? Don’t worry. Empire has so many of our favorite tv show qualities and characteristics that I can’t think of too many people who wouldn’t like it. It has a classic television series premise (we’ll explain!), family struggles, fancy people – who used to be underdogs, if you’re the sort who hates fancy people, music, few enough episodes that you can catch up in a weekend, and 90s flashbacks. Okay? Okay. Let’s discuss that bingo card.
Classic Pilot Premise[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBzu_jKLJek]
Maybe none of your favorite TV series are about hip-hop dynasties, but you don’t have to be into the genre, you just have to like a good television drama. One of the classic tv series premises is the “shake up”: the pilot introduces a shift in circumstances for the characters, and the series progresses as people try to deal with it. I’m going to do this without giving out much info beyond the first episode. Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) is the CEO of Empire Entertainment. Two of his sons are artists on the label: singer-songwriter Jamal (Jussie Smollett) and rapper Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray). His third son, Andre, is the company CFO. Lucious is diagnosed with ALS, and he has to decide which of his sons will take over the label. Probably not Jamal, because he’s gay and Lucious can’t deal, but who knows? So that’s shake up, Part I. Shake up part II: The boys’ mother, Cookie (Taraji P. Henson), is released from prison after 17 years and wants her piece of the Empire pie.
I like my television aspirational. Even when a series is about lower or middle-class folks, I want their clothes and house to be nicer than my own. Like, I wasn’t one of those people who was furious that Monica could never have afforded that apartment in Friends. What can I say, if I want to look at mall clothes and Ikea furniture, I can see them anytime I want. The Lyon family is totally loaded, and they’re in Hip Hop, so conspicuous consumption is the name of the game. Palatial estates, fur coats, a gold chain as thick as my hair braid … that’s what television is for. Lucious is partially inspired by Jay-Z, if that gives you an idea.
But maybe you disagree. Maybe you hate “rich people” (hi, Dad, didn’t know you read my blog). The Lyons rose from humble origins, and if the Jay-Z reference meant anything to you, you see where this is going – Lucious is a former drug dealer, which is what landed Cookie in prison.
Hip Hop[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dtfFF_vYqrs]
I know, I said you didn’t have to like hip hop to like Empire. And you don’t. But if you do like hip hop, you should definitely be watching. Just about every episode has amazing musical performances. Jamal has a gorgeous voice, Hakeem is a solid rapper and most of his songs are collaborations with other great artists, and the original songs are actually good. Since it’s a show about the music industry, the transition to song is pretty seamless. It’s not like a musical where everyone is talking and then decides to rap-battle their family meeting (I would watch that though). It’s not hokey. Think more Nashville, less Smash.
Danny Strong, the co-creator of Empire (AND DOYLE ON GILMORE GIRLS), recently confirmed that the character of Lucious was inspired by Jay Z and his story of having a criminal past then turning his life around to become a hip-hop star and eventually an all around business man (not a businessman). But that’s not to say he still doesn’t have some fight in him. See: Elevator, May 2014.
I don’t know how to do this.
Before The Fight
Beyonce is separating Solange and Jay-Z, as if to say “if there is not something the size of an adult human person between these two, this situation will devolve quickly.”
Or possibly, “It makes the most sense for me to sit next to both my sister and my husband.” Whatever. Who cares.
But let us apply the Cher Horowitz Body Language Analysis to this, shall we? Remember how Cher knew Miss Geist and Mr. Hall were into each other? Of course you do: “Legs crossed towards each other.” Bey is angled towards Jay-Z, showing where her loyalty lies, whereas Solange is curling away from Bey and Jay like a Fortune Teller Fish from the Oriental Trading Company.
Solalnge’s hand is raised upwards towards her face, saying “who, me, start a fight?” or possibly “look at my hair! I straightened it.” Probably, like, one of those, right?
In this undated image, Jay-Z drapes a proprietorial arm over Solange’s shoulder. This is a gesture that says “I totally COULD have you in a headlock, but you know what, I’m not going to do that.” Solange’s crossed arms show that she is “closing herself off to social influence” (I Googled it), which makes sense, because who is more influential than Jay-Z? (Answer: Beyonce)
But the real question is why is Solange’s outside arm raised up so high? Try it, it’s not a natural position. Some theories:
(1) She’s making a triangle between her arm and Jay-Z’s hand. Coincidence? No. Triangles: the official shape of the Illuminati. Spooooky.
(2) She’s trying to avoid that thing where your bicep squishes against your side, splaying out your arm fat.
(3) There’s some sort of an armrest that we can’t really see.
Solange has a heavy object and a sharp-looking ring in her right hand (colloquially known as your “fighting hand”). She is applauding, but also ready for a fracas.
Jay-Z is relieved that everyone’s applauding really loud because he has had to fart for the past 10 minutes.
When Beyonce drops her ring, Jay-Z jokingly places it on her finger. The super-legit body language analysis take-away? “Our wedding vows are a joke.” Note Bey’s hand on her finger, as if to say “this is very cute, but just so we’re all clear, I’m perfectly capable of putting my own ring on (it), thanks.” Her head is tilted back in laughter, as she thinks in song:
The shoes on my feet
I’ve bought it
The clothes I’m wearing
I’ve bought it
The rock I’m rockin’
‘Cause I depend on me
As the blue-blooded half of a royal couple always walks several paces ahead of their spouse (Will before Kate, Elizabeth before Phillip, etc), so does Jay-Z trail Queen Bey. Jay Z walks with both hands in his pockets, like someone who is not so much feeling casual as trying to look casual. Can’t you imagine him whistling Camptown Races like Bugs Bunny in a cartoon? Doo-doo-doo, nothing to see here.
You just KNOW he knows a melee’s a-brewin’.
I’m going to do what I just did yesterday with the ultrasound images of my new niece, and pretend I can tell what’s going on. At least the baby didn’t have the letters TMZ superimposed over her blurry little face, though.
Jay-Z – white jacket, left hand side – has an arm outstretched, the international gesture for “please, stay at least an arm’s length away from me.” Meanwhile, Solange’s right foot (is that a foot?) is positioned forward and her arm is pushing against Jay’s. This is body language for “I’d prefer to get closer than an arm’s length, in order to fight you.” Her free arm is swung backwards, which in Body Language-to-English, translates to “I’m trying to punch you. Hard.”
Solange’s face is downcast, so you’d think she was ashamed, but that’s not the whole story. Look at her arms, pulled to waist height with her hands hanging freely from her wrists. These are the loose arms of someone who looks like she’s practically about to tap dance. Not a care in the world.
I think part of this is her Charleston-y drop waist dress. When did they wear drop-waist dresses? The 1920s. What book was written in the 1920s? Among others? The Great Gatsby. Who helped score the 2013 film adaptation of Gatsby? That’s right – Jay-Z himself. It’s all coming together.
This is a tricky one, but that’s why I get paid the big bucks. See Jay-Z’s hand, pulled to his cheek? That is his body’s way of saying “OW. My face.” Solange still has swingy tap arms.
NOW. Now Jay-Z’s hand is on his abdomen. When a lady rests her hand on her abdomen, it often means “I am pregnant” or possibly “I ate too much.” In this context, though, it probably means “OW. I also got hit in the stomach.” It also may mean “I ate too much,” but is the Met more of a finger foods event?
Solange’s tap dance hands are now pointed outward, a subtle shrug that says “yeah. I did it. What?”
New dance form. Beyonce’s hitched up skirt says “flamenco” and flamenco says “in-your-face triumph.” She has the placid smile of a 16th century Madonna. She continues to walk a few paces ahead of Jay-Z, as is her right.
Jay-Z’s hands are on his hips, body language for “how rude!” However, most of his energy is pulled into his face, with every muscle tensed towards the center. His eyes are not on Beyonce, but rather cast into middle distance, as if thinking to himself “WHAT THE HELL I just got beat up by my wife’s little sister.” This, truly, is the hour of lead that Emily Dickinson wrote about – first chill, then stupor, then the letting go. Based on his face, Hova is still trapped in the “stupor” stage.
In the alternative, Jay-Z is feeling his back pockets and has a face of dismay and realization. This is body language shorthand for “dammit, I left my wallet in there!”
After The Fight
In a total turnaround, Beyonce’s legs are now crossed AWAY from Jay Z, and the arm closest to him is pulled to her opposite side. Jay Z’s leg position says “I am the guy who you don’t want to sit next to you on a subway or bus.” [Really, gents. You do not need to sit with your legs three feet apart.] His shoulders are slumped – defeat! – and his hands are triangled – illuminati! His face is still a bit shell-shocked, like he can’t believe it’s really real. Bey remains impassive. Whatever this situation is, like all situations, Beyonce is in control of it. Or possibly behind it. All hail.